PALMDALE, Calif. — At first glance, Palmdale Aerospace Academy students Ricky Montano and Amara Osegueda are standing around what looks like a contraption made of cardboard, PVC pipe and straps, but to these 11th graders, it represents so much more.

What You Need To Know

  • Palmdale Aerospace Academy is a public charter school focusing on STEM education

  • Brian Martin, a STEM teacher at the school, teaches an engineering design and development class that challenges students to come up with a solution to a real-world problem, create a prototype and present it to a panel of engineers

  • Martin said his class and others at the academy prepare and inspire students to pursue STEM careers, especially aerospace in the Antelope Valley, which is often considered a leader in aerospace with companies including Lockheed Martin and NASA

  • Martin said there is a push to inspire young people to pursue engineering careers because many of the current workforce is 60 and over

"This is more of a chest strap, but it was supposed to represent like the waist strap that we wanted to keep the patient secure," Montano said as he points to different parts of the prototype, which is a walker designed for people who have cerebral palsy.

Montano said he was inspired after seeing two cousins grow up with the condition, which affects a person's ability to move.

"We normally take our walking ability for granted, people like her, they can't do much, and then my other cousin can kind of walk, but she's not exactly the best at walking, so she always has to be supervised, and it just kind of sucks," he said.

Montano, Osegueda and classmate Angie Barahona spent nine months meeting virtually, taking the idea from conception to reality. It is part of an engineering design and development class taught by STEM teacher Brian Martin, who has 24 years of teaching experience.

"They look at what kind of solution or innovation they would have, you know, make it better, stronger, faster, more efficient, right?" said the science, technology, engineering and math teacher. "And then they look at similar solutions, and then they look at patents, and then they set their mind on it, and then they go!"

Osegueda said their prototype involved a lot of trial and error. 

"We just made it happen, and even though it's like not in a great prototype, it's giving an idea of what it is supposed to be like," she said. 

Martin said eight student teams came up with innovative ideas that included an alarm for unattended strollers and eco-friendly shoelaces. It prepares them for STEM careers; a talent much needed in the Antelope Valley.

"Our school has a partnership between the City of Palmdale and all of our local aerospace industry, Northrup, Lockheed, NASA, Edwards Air Force Base," he said. "They knew that 60% of the engineers were 50 and over. You know, there is a crisis in our country. There is two million high-knowledge, high-paying jobs that are unfilled by people in our own country and it's really a crisis."

Martin said 80% of students are college-bound, and many may even have jobs by the time they graduate high school. However, right now they are focused on presenting their prototypes to industry professionals for feedback in an annual showcase.

The exercise gives them a taste of the working world that awaits them. Osegueda plans to take the skills she has learned and work in healthcare or business. Montano is torn between aerospace and forensic science.

"I like the math, and I like the science, so I feel like it was a pretty good combination plus I'm really not squeamish, so I was like, why not?" he said.